August 1st, 2016
| Survivor: Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Hair loss is one of the most common and visual side effects of chemotherapy during cancer. Everyone's approach to losing their hair is different, and it's important for them to share how it changes throughout their cancer journey.
Being bald SUCKED. There’s no nice way to put it.
I went into the hospital with all my hair, (I remember that I even packed a hair brush in my overnight bag), to leave 32 days later without any, after confirming that I had Acute Myeloid Leukemia- a very serious disease that could take my life if not treated immediately. I would give each of the departing strands a lecture of what it felt like to be betrayed by each of them. After years of maintenance and dedication to make them look beautiful, they would just leave me. It was much easier to be angry at my hair for falling out than to face what was going on: I had cancer. I couldn’t stop picturing myself bald. I watched youtube videos and started to practice wearing scarves even with all my hair.
Then, life smacked me in the face when my hospital neighbor died of AML while I was just inches away from her. Yes, she was much older and had other complications, but that was a critical moment for me. I stopped caring about my hair, or lack of, rather. I just wanted to know what my biopsy results were and how those damn white blood cells were after my first phase of chemo.
Once I got over the fact that I was bald, I started to get really excited about the wig my best friend picked out for me. On my discharge date I went to pick up what would later be known as, Miranda (my wig). It was love at first sight. She was a beauty! Cut and styled just as my hair was the last time I left the beauty salon. I was myself again.
I was bald for the entire six months of treatment but I would get really excited to see the little hair growth in between cycles. However, I learned to not get attached as it would fall out pretty soon and even worse, it took my eyelashes and eyebrows with them. It was terrible. I was very blessed to have minimal side effects from chemo so I felt pretty good and like a normal person for most of treatment, but my hair constantly reminded me that life was far from normal for me.
At times, I would look in the mirror and get scared at my reflection. I was scared because I really forgot that my hair had fallen out, but also because the girl in the mirror was not me and I didn’t know if I would ever find her again.
When my last month of treatment came around, I couldn’t believe I was at the finish line. I was closer to the beginning of new hair! I even decided to do a “Self-confidence 5K walk”, organized by thebaldiemovement, for participants to embrace and show off their beauty to the world. I don’t know what got into me, but I had to be there- the same girl who wouldn’t even open the door or go downstairs to check the mail without her wig or scarf, wanted to do this walk.
The walk was exhilarating. I was with amazing friends who had been with me throughout this journey and we had the best time. I was shocked to realize that people weren’t staring at me or noticing my baldness. I realized then that honestly, people don’t really care- even if they look at you for an extra second. People didn’t care because I, for the first time, didn’t care. I felt pretty fabulous! That walk was the first of many more times that I would leave my house without my wig and soon enough, I would stop wearing it to work or social events, then stopped wearing it completely. My hair was starting to grow, very quickly at that, and I was over my complex of having lost my hair.
As my eyelashes and eyebrows were sprouting again and I had some stubby strands of hair on my head (chia pet, anyone?), I remember taking pictures, looking in the mirror and loving my reflection. I was no longer the woman I was last year, or the woman I was at the hospital, or the woman with my wig on, I wasn’t even the woman I was a week before. But I was better. I am better.
I do miss the person I was before cancer, but that person is no longer. Yes, there are some parts of her that will always be with me, but I am totally new. I have been reborn. I am not happy to have gotten cancer, but I am thankful for lessons learned and for the growth I've experienced during the last year. I will not let that be overshadowed by my temporary baldness.
To read my poem about hair loss and loving yourself after cancer treatment, read "An Ode To My Hair: Naturally."
What has helped challenge your opinion about baldness? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of author.
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